The Roman emperor Hadrian is more prominently known in the architectural community as possibly the best candidate for having designed and created the Pantheon. Our professor Catherine Barrett explained to me while walking through Hadrian’s villa that he was one of the first emperors to both travel to all the corners of the Roman Empire and also the first to have his residence outside of Rome. This brings up many questions about his desire to live outside of the capital that he ruled, but also provides evidence of his scholarly knowledge as well as his understanding of different types of architecture. On the journey through Hadrian’s Villa I was accompanied by two of my friends who were visiting Rome but not studying architecture. They also had no knowledge of Hadrian before the trip to my temporary home, or that his massive estate in Tivoli existed. This turned out to be a wonderful experience for me as I got to listen to their questions and ideas about the massive estate, and also channel what information I had on the emperor, his villa, and ancient Roman architecture as well.
On approach to Hadrian’s Villa we were instructed to look for specific axes that Hadrian used and also to try to identify some of the different architectural techniques and styles that he used in the creation of his extremely large and extravagant residence. After the Professor’s explanation my two friends and I (Dakota and Lizzy) began to wander around the thousand plus year-old ruins and imagine what it must have been like when the ruins were newly constructed with all of the ornament and landscaping that would have been placed at the Villa. The first element that is seen once entering into the first courtyard is the hundred-yard long pool that stretches away from the villa towards the hillside of the estate that overlooks the valley below. This immediately captured our interest but we wanted to see all of the places at the villa that we had decided on when looking at a plan of the area first.
The two non-architects with me stared up at the ruins fascinated and paying more attention to scale and time period than the actual buildings themselves (which I expected). This was kind of a positive for me because I was able to really think to myself all alone about how this place was actually built, the techniques used, and over all the different styles of architectural influence in the different sections of the villa. Although no one has a clear evidence of the exact influences that Hadrian used or even how many of his buildings were constructed, it was clear that different kinds of ideas were used when planning out his multi-axis, multi-building style villa.
From many of the lectures from both of our professors here in Rome (Dr. Pilat and Dr. Barrett), we have been able to learn many things about both the ancient architecture in Rome and how revolutionary it was in its time and also how this ancient architecture has influenced all practice in the field after it. With these lectures as well as comparative strategies on dating and explaining architectural details, I have been able to learn different ways to view and analyze different time periods of building styles throughout Rome.
I mention this to tie back my previous conversation about Hadrian’s Villa. Earlier in our time here in Rome we were lucky enough to travel to Ostia Antica, which is the ancient port of Rome and like Hadrian’s is an area of ruins that are preserved and still studied by architects and archeologists alike today. At the villa I began to compare the similarities and differences between Hadrian’s Villa and Ostia Antica. This was one of the most influential periods of my trip, although small, it had an enormous impact on my understanding of architecture at its most elaborate but also functional phase in history. The Romans, even though they were maybe the most egotistical civilization in all of history, were also the most innovative and determined people architecturally, socially, and militarily then and for a great deal of time after their empire fell.
After we left Hadrian’s Villa, we went up into the town of Tivoli and traveled to the Villa D’Este which, like Hadrian’s was a villa, but it was built in the Baroque period (began in late 16th century). This villa was a welcome break from Hadrian’s in the way that the more “modern” architecture that the villa was built in was able to be preserved enough that the entire estate was accessible. This time period too saw a great amount of wealth for a small amount of people. This palace was surrounded by gardens that were more elaborate than any I had ever seen in my life and for multiple hours my friends and I walked through the fountains and flowers. With my mother being a landscape architect and my inherited love for vegetation and floral design, I was in an amazing place stuck between elaborate and ornate architecture and beautiful fountains and a display of flowers that I had never seen anywhere in my world travels before.
This day trip was possibly the most influential day viewing architecture and its surroundings alike that I have seen in my entire schooling career. For the last three months I have been lucky enough to walk through the streets of Rome every day, but on this day I was able to see two different amazingly influential times in architecture and was able to relate them to different things I have seen in Rome the history of architecture. This experience combined with the fact that I was able to live a part of my mother’s legacy allowed me to take something extra from this trip that I do not know if anyone else on the outing was able to. This gave me a new purpose for my schooling in design and taught me that there are other things besides building design that can dramatically affect the experience of a place.